During the pandemic restrictions of the past 12 months, businesses of all types have had to totally rethink the way they operate. Shifting staff to remote working, reviewing core processes, and serving customers virtually have become part of the mix.

Of all business sectors, one of the hardest hit has been retail. With stores forced to close for an extended period and supply chains widely disrupted, some retailers have unfortunately been forced to close their doors for good.

Thankfully, however, many retailers have been able to change their operations and find innovative ways to continue serving their customers. Some have moved entirely online, while others have changed their in-store experiences to comply with social distancing restrictions.

In many cases, mobile devices have been an essential part of the new systems being put in place. Customers are encouraged to browse online catalogues on their smartphones and place orders via apps. The devices are also being put to work by store staff. They can use them to check store inventory levels or whether a particular item is available at another location.

It’s clear that mobile devices and other technologies will continue to play a critical role as the retail sector recovers from the COVID-19 disruptions. Three of the most important are: 

  1. Ongoing support for front-line staff

A significant number of retailers are already using at least one mobile technology, such as shared mobile devices, to link the brick-and-mortar stores with the online store. They are also being used as Point-of-Sale (PoS) devices.

While digital transformations may be changing retail, consumers still want some form of human interaction, and unfortunately, in the new post-COVID environment, this can be challenging to achieve. The important thing to remember is that a retailer does not necessarily need to remove all sales representatives within the store but, instead, find ways to humanise technology and find a new purpose for existing staff.

For example, cash desks can be removed to avoid people queuing close to one another, and payments can be taken by an easy-to-use iPad or tablet anywhere within the store.

2. The automation of stock management

With fewer sales representatives in-store, retailers can plan to automate their warehouses to support any staff so that they can focus on creating an enjoyable customer experience.

Automated warehouses are expected to keep reliable stock data in real-time so that staff can have an accurate picture of stock-flow at any point to make better-informed decisions.

Armed with a mobile device, a staff member can log in and check orders for customers. It’s also possible to reduce waste by making more accurate forecasts on product demand and determining what products are likely to lead to an increase in sales. Many large retailers have already begun to adopt and implement new automated warehouse technologies during the pandemic, and others are likely to follow in the months ahead.

3. Provide customers with augmented reality experiences

Some innovative retail brands are already taking advantage of the rapidly evolving area of augmented reality. The tools in use include software that can analyse a person’s skin colour and face shape and then recommend the best beauty products.

During the next 12 months, it’s highly likely that more retailers will use augmented reality to help customers paint a picture of how they will look in certain clothes or how their home could be designed or redecorated.

Deploying new augmented reality-powered apps that both sales representatives and customers can use on their own devices will require retailers to ensure these apps are compatible with popular devices and can be deployed easily and efficiently.

Using technology in these ways has the potential to significantly improve operating conditions for retailers of all sizes. By offering an improved and innovative customer experience, they can ensure they’re able to take advantage of new opportunities as restrictions are eased and retail activity increases.

Jamie Davidson is regional sales manager for Australia and New Zealand at Jamf.